The effects of sleep deprivation while driving can be catastrophic.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently reported that drivers who sleep fewer than five hours a night are four times more likely to be involved in a car crash.
The crash risks associated with little sleep are similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.08, the legal limit in the United States. Driving on fewer than four hours is comparable to having a blood alcohol content of between 0.12 to 0.15 percent.
Furthermore, drivers who slept for five or six hours were twice as likely to crash as drivers who slept for seven hours.
Even drivers who only missed a few hours could end up in an accident. For example, people who missed two to three hours of sleep were three times more likely to crash their cars.
Previously, the AAA Foundation determined that driver drowsiness was a factor in 7 percent of all crashes, 13 percent of crashes that result in hospital admission and 21 percent of fatal crashes.
The importance of sleep
In other words, you do not want to drive when you’re not well-rested. The effects of sleep deprivation include slower reaction times, less accurate responses and long lapses in attention – all factors that can contribute to car crashes.
Ideally, adults are supposed to get seven hours of sleep a night – or at least nine hours for teenagers, young adults, sick people and people recovering from sleep debt. However, more than 1 in 3 adults admits to sleeping fewer than seven hours a day. Nevertheless, 97 percent of drivers in the study agreed that sleep-deprived driving was unacceptable and a serious threat to their safety.
“Managing a healthy work-life balance can be difficult and far too often we sacrifice our sleep as a result,” said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA. “Failing to maintain a healthy sleep schedule could mean putting yourself or others on the road at risk.”
Tips to stay alert on the road
So what can you do? AAA recommends getting enough sleep, especially the night before you take a long trip. It’s an obvious answer but it still stands as good advice. Even a 20-minute nap can help.
Second of all, stop driving and pull over if you if you have one of the signs of sleep deprivation, which include feeling tired or irritable, yawning, losing focus or drifting from your lane of travel. And try to travel at times when you are normally awake, versus overnight hours.
And if you have to drive at night? Have a friend who’s awake ride in the passenger seat to look out for you. Drink coffee or another caffeinated beverage 30 minutes before you drive.
And remember – taking steps to stay awake on the road now can prevent a crash later.
For more information on the effects of sleep deprivation, visit AAA.com/DrowsyDriving.